Friends, I come to you today through the blogosphere with groundbreaking news – just moments ago I officially handed in my Senior Individualized Project (SIP)! I’ve been working on my SIP (or SIPping, as the kids call it these days) since spring of 2017, back when I was panicking about what my topic would be, which model I would choose, and how on earth I would ever finish it. Luckily, I had plenty of resources here on campus to help me navigate all of my SIP anxieties. As an Anthropology and Sociology major, I elected to do my SIP in my major department, although you can do your SIP in departments outside your major as well. Mine ended up being a forty-page research paper, but I have friends who are writing original plays, producing original music, and writing novels for their SIPs. That’s what’s so great about K – you can base your SIP off of whatever experience you want to have. But back when I was in the early stages of my SIP journey, I felt overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, and it seemed like everyone else around me had a solid vision for theirs. Luckily, I had the support of the Anthropology Department Chair, Dr. Baptiste, who always welcomed me into her office hours to hear my latest SIP concerns. I’m sure that at larger schools it just wouldn’t be possible for professors to spend as much time with students who needed help planning their SIPs. I feel so grateful to be at a school where the professors are not only easily accessible, but are also so willing to help you find your way, whether it be on a class assignment, your SIP, or life after K.
Through my conversations with Dr. Baptiste, I discovered that I wanted experience in the work force rather than experience with collecting data. She suggested that I do a summer practicum model for my SIP, where I could couple a literature review with a reflection of my internship experience. This sounded perfect for what I wanted, and now the only problem was getting myself a summer internship. That’s where the Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD) came in. I went to them asking what summer internship opportunities were available and they encouraged me to apply to one of the several Kalamazoo organizations that the CCPD partners with. They coached me through the application process, helped me edit my résumé and cover letters, and even awarded me a substantial stipend once I landed an internship (music to the ears of a broke college student). So not only was I able to gain experience in a field of interest, I was also able to base my SIP off of that experience. The support I was given from the Anthropology and Sociology Department and the CCPD, as well as the abundant opportunities provided by the City of Kalamazoo made my SIP experience a positive one. Whoever is reading this is probably not overly concerned about the SIP just yet, but you can rest assured that K College will give you the resources you need to succeed.
There is a common misconception that students should know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives the moment they step foot on their college campus. In actuality, a large portion of students enter college with an undeclared major or have little to no idea what career path they want to follow and use their college experience to figure it out along the way. I like to think Kalamazoo College’s K-Plan works best for students who are unsure of what they want to do, because it allows for a little trial and error with minimal consequences. The K-Plan is built to prepare you for what’s next, and one important piece of that is to give you opportunities to explore with the support of the institution behind you.
Let’s take a look at the first component of the K-Plan – Depth and Breadth in Liberal Arts. At Kalamazoo College, students do not officially declare their major until the middle of their sophomore year. Although some students are very certain what they want to major in, we encourage everyone to take different kinds of classes and explore different departments. By the time you declare your major, you will have taken fifteen classes. That’s fifteen opportunities to figure out what you like and we hope by then you land on one (or two!) department(s) you want to major in. One question I always get when I say this is “But will I still graduate on time? I REALLY don’t know what I want to major in”. Yes, you will still graduate on time *Hears sigh of relief from every senior around the world*. With our open curriculum and minimal requirements, time to explore different areas of study is built into a 4-year graduation plan.
In the same vein, there are students who know what they want to study, but they do not know how they can turn their interest into a career. Many people have grown up with the notion that there are three major career paths – doctor, lawyer, and teacher – and feel a little out of place when they come to the realization that their passion does not perfectly align with any of these careers. Kalamazoo College has an externship program called Discovery, and just as the name implies, it provides students with the opportunity to discover a variety of career paths as early as the end of their freshman year. Students get the chance to take a glimpse at what their life can look like 5, 10, or 30 years from now and are able to decide whether this is something they want to pursue before diving deep into a major. The ability to see a variety of career possibilities helps our students find a career path that is right for them early in their undergraduate career.
In short, I know walking into college not knowing what you want to do can seem scary, but the K-Plan provides you the space to ask questions, explore, and grow, so that you can be successful and thrive at anything you decide to do.
With my first year at Kalamazoo College coming to an end, I figured you all might enjoy a quick check-in about my life socially and academically, as well as how I’ve adjusted to the college life overall. Fortunately, I’ve had a really great college experience thus far in terms of adjusting to being away from home (even if I am only 30 minutes away) and making new friends. I really owe my easy adjustment in these areas to the LandSea program here at K. I talked about the program in my first blog post but because the experience I received from it has had such an impact on me, it deserves to be mentioned again. After spending 18 days in the wilderness with strangers without any contact with my family and friends from home, I had no choice but to get to know the people in my patrol. After 18 days in camping, canoeing, and hiking, I created such strong bonds with those in my patrol and my patrol leaders which made me feel more comfortable coming into my first year at a college where I wasn’t going to know anyone else attending. Two of my patrol mates are two of my closest friends here at school and I honestly don’t know who I would be friends with if I hadn’t been put in the same patrol as them.
As for my adjustment academically, I was pretty intimidated being at a school where it seemed like everyone knew what they were doing with their lives and seemed to have so much knowledge about topics and issues within and outside of their intended major. It felt like I had gone from a striving student in high school to an average kid in college. Thankfully, this feeling is typically normal for many incoming First Years. The academic atmosphere at K can be very rigorous and stressful, but once you spend some time taking classes in and outside of your intended major, or majors, you start to realize that you have just as much right to be here as everyone else. It’s a very common thing to feel like you’re out of place and even under-qualified once you move to a new place, and the people at K understand. The open curriculum here allows you to dive deep into the subjects you strive in while also allowing you to find new talents and interests in areas you never would have tried before.
So, overall, I’ve had a pretty good college experience over the past nine months. It may not be as easy for some of you though. Maybe you’ll feel a little more overwhelmed than I did when I first got here. Or, you might have an easier adjustment to the college life. The important thing to know is that it’s different for everyone, but no matter if you feel anxious, homesick, or intimidated, every feeling is valid.
One of the biggest things I struggled with during my high school career was figuring out when to keep pushing myself on assignments and when to realize I was absolutely drained and needed to give myself a break. In my specific academic environment, it seemed that if you weren’t getting A’s, you weren’t working hard enough. Anything less was unacceptable and embarrassing. With the attitude I was surrounded by, I always did my best to push myself academically while staying involved in plenty of extracurricular activities. However, there came a point during my senior year where I realized I had to give myself a break. Though my grades were achieved fairly easily and my involvement in clubs and sports had not been faltering, my body and mind were hurting. During that year I went home sick more times than the previous three years combined, and looking back, most of those instances were a result of wearing my body down from stress and fatigue. Even after resting until I was “better,” I would jump right back into the same pattern of work, work, work. It wasn’t until I came to K that I learned how vital your physical and mental health are.
The summer before my first quarter at K, so many people told me, “Don’t worry if you feel like you’re drowning. The stress culture at K is very real.” Although I heard these words from many people, I didn’t know what they meant until my second quarter here at K. Fortunately, my Fall Quarter was pretty calm. I loved the classes I was taking and worked hard in them, but I never felt overwhelmed. Yet, I didn’t know Winter Quarter would have an entirely different atmosphere. The classes I decided to take all required more from me, both inside and outside of the classroom. Along with a different course load, I was involved in more student organizations and started to work on the weekends. It all seemed so familiar that I thought nothing of it. It was exactly what I did in high school. But I didn’t last long. The overwhelming feeling soon settled in and it hit me, “This is the stress culture everyone talks about.” It was almost a scary feeling because I realized that it was hard and I wasn’t necessarily used to hard, but the professors at K knew that.
The thing I appreciate most about K is that professors understand that the stress culture is real on campus and that it is draining. Most professors encourage you to make sure your mental health is intact and that you are at a healthy place to learn and work. I have been lucky enough to have professors, especially during my Winter Quarter, that encourage my classmates and I to make sure our minds and bodies are well because if they’re not, we will not be at our full potential and will not focus as best as we can on the material and participate in the discussions. Looking back now, if I could give myself one crucial piece of advice before coming to K, I would say, “Health is wealth. Your academic performance is important, but the state of your mind and body outrank it.” I strongly encourage everyone to remind themselves that their minds, bodies, and souls come first, always.
Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help because we develop such a strong sense of pride and we don’t want to do anything to ruin that. In high school I had grown comfortable when asking for help, knowing what teachers were willing to go the extra step and make sure I connected to the assignments and projects only because I spent four consecutive years there and the school itself was relatively small. Coming to K though, I struggled. I think the main reason for this was that I didn’t have connections yet, everything was still new and fresh and I didn’t know exactly who to turn to for help, or even how.
The first few weeks in my classes I was assigned multiple essays. Being assigned the essays wasn’t the issue as I have always been one to perform well in English and writing. The issue was, however, that college was a new space with new expectations and I wanted to start off the year strong but wasn’t sure who or where to turn to for help in order to succeed. Fortunately, this is how many first year students may feel when they first get to college and the teachers are aware of it, especially here at K. One of the places on campus that is repeatedly mentioned for academic assistance is the Writing Center, and for a good reason too. The Writing Center is made up of student consultants in a variety of different majors that have been trained to help students with any academic, or even recreational, writings, whether that be an essay, lab report, poem, or short story. The students there are more than willing to take the time to work with you to get your assignment where you want it no matter where you are in the writing process- understanding the prompt, editing a draft, or finalizing a polished piece.
Within my first quarter, I found myself at the Writing Center for almost every writing assignment. It became a secure space for creating ideas and receiving critique, making it easy to stop thinking that getting some assistance may ruin your pride. I have worked with several different consultants and each one has worked as hard as the next in helping me start, edit, and finish assignments before their due dates. Each have also gone the extra step and have spent time past scheduled appointments to help wrap up ideas or go over new additions, while making it clear that if I needed more assistance they were open to meeting up at a different time without scheduling an appointment.
The Writing Center at K is just one of the many resources that is available to students for academic assistance and that wants you to be successful. Don’t worry about your pride when gaining a helping hand leads to a strong essay, friendly connections, and free candy with every visit!